Monday, October 2, 2017

Couches, Cake, and a Little Crazy - Beat the Blerch Recap

Once again I've beaten the Blerch ... but just barely.  Cake and couches are oh, so tempting! I almost didn't sign up this year.  Knowing I was going to run the Hamster 12 hour the weekend before I wasn't sure I wanted to run a marathon the following weekend.  I debated doing the half instead of the full but wasn't sure I wanted to run the half as that feels like a much more crazy and chaotic time.  I enjoy the small field of marathon runners and the quiet of the course we get by starting earlier.  In the end, the long sleeve half zip, the trail and the cake created more temptation than I could resist and I signed up.  I'm glad I did!

The course starts at Tolt McDonald Park and is only 40 minutes from my home and is an easy drive to freeway required and not a lot of crazy traffic.  I hate, hate, hate driving on the freeways around here so a race that doesn't require such madness is always a hit with me.  The parking situation is also pretty convenient so that's one more stress taken away.  It's always good to start a race with as little tummy turmoil as possible!  

The last two times I've run this one my husband has come with me, he ran the half in 2015 while I did the full and joined me for the full in 2016.  This year he opted not to as he's been fighting a lousy knee and busy work schedule. Last year, my friend Karen was here and we spent the entire race together. I found myself missing her fun vibe. It was a different feel arriving at a "party" race with no one to party alongside. I had to drink a shot of maple syrup all by my lonesome and ask some kind strangers to take my photo with the Nutella.  I still had fun and enjoyed a conversation with a woman from New Zealand, who was running this as a training run, as well as chatting with a couple other people at the start.  So while lonelier than years past, I was not alone!  Marathoners are always a friendly bunch!  
The classic giant Nutella Photo
Shot of Maple Syrup!  I actually wish they handed these out at aid stops!

I had no goals for this marathon other than to make it across the finish line. My hamstring was still in early "no longer injured" stage and already stressed from last weekends 12 hour.  My training for all of this had been subpar thanks to said hamstring, and I was greeted with the stench of smoke the moment I opened my eyes that morning.  Forest fires have been ravaging the Western side of our nation, as most know, and while I feel fortunate that my home in Western WA has escaped fire, we have not been escaping smoke. My allergies do not like smoke so that smell back in the air did not bode well for me.  One more reason to just take it easy and enjoy the time outdoors.

Pretty view from the course but that overcast look is smoke.  :(

I always forget how big the gravel is in spots here at the start and finish. There's a small bit of pavement and then the course diverts into the gravel and it's here that it's pretty chunky ground. Since this is an out and back, we get that area twice. Recalling that it was annoying (while still forgetting just how annoying) I had opted to wear my clunky but cushy Altra's.  So happy I made that choice!

There's an extra out and back section the full marathoners get to do before meeting up with the main course shared with the half marathoner's and 10k'rs.  The volunteers along here were great and the vibe was already fun and personable.  I was feeling pretty good here and, at this point in time, had hopes that perhaps my finish time would be in the 5-5:30 range.

Feeling pretty good!  

The morning had started out cool but I quickly realized I did not need to wear the Bolero I'd brought.  I kicked myself as I tied it around my waist somewhere around mile 3.  Oh well, it looked cute in this photo! Happily, while it did warm up beyond what I like, the temperature never felt like it was beating me up.  The smoke, despite its downside, did seem to help keep the temperature down as it blocked the burning rays of the sun from reaching my skin and head.  Sun beating down on me is my nemesis!  

At some point I missed a photographer.  I remember seeing them take photos of people coming the opposite way and thinking to myself, "Oops.  I didn't see them when I passed that way.  Hmm... wonder how those shots will turn out?"  Well, here's the answer... at least my legs look strong but a smile would have gone a long way! 

Lucky me, I did see the next photographer and got my favorite race photo yet!  I've always been leery of trying to jump mid-race because ... tired legs and what if it turns out goofy? But I decided to go for it and as I approached I said, "I'm gonna jump"!  She gave me a 3.2.1 countdown and I did a couple leaps.  I'm so glad I did it because what a fun shot!

Preparing to fly!
I'm flying!

And I've landed

I reached the first aid station and enjoyed having it mostly to myself as the vast majority of full runners were faster than me and had already passed by and the half marathoner's hadn't yet caught up.  As I approached, the resident Yeti was trying to hide behind a small branch but I sighted him behind his lousy hiding place and made him come out for a photo.  He was really a very friendly Yeti.  I then took a photo of him and another marathoner.  I'm slow anyway so what's another minute or two? Of course, as long as I'm already taking a photo break, I might as well have a little sit down on the couch with Blerch to watch a movie.  Okay, no movie.  And not even cake yet but I did take a photo!

By the time I reached the second major aid station, aka, stations with couches and Blerch, the half marathoner's had caught up and it was crowded.  I grabbed some purple drink (Gatorade) and ran right on by.  And then I walked.  I'd already been doing a 4:1 run/walk ratio but by this time the gradual uphill was informing me that even though it was hard to see, it was there.  My body was also telling me it was tired.  And my lungs weren't as happy as they would have been in clear air (hello allergies, my old friends).  I decreased my run to somewhere around a 3 or 2.  I can't recall which exactly.  It was probably a mix of both.  I told myself when I reached the turnaround I'd have more energy to make use of the slight downhill.  I do recall on one walk break some young kid running the half said, "Oh no!  Keep going.  You've got this!"  I replied with a smile, "I know I do.  For many more miles". Not everyone understands planned walk breaks. Ha ha.  He was only trying to encourage me so I'll take it in that spirit.  I think I was only at 11 or so miles at this point.

I was really anxious to reach the turnaround for the half marathoners.  I was ready to be out of the chaos of the larger event and onto the quiet and, in my opinion, prettier portion of the trail.  Eventually, I could see it up ahead.  Hurray!  As I approached I could hear the volunteer telling folks, "Yeah,  you get to turn around!  You get to turn around! So do you!  You get to turn around!"  Then I reached her and she said, "Not you.  You have a really long way yet to go".  I laughed and said something along the lines of "lucky me!" and proceeded on, just a little envious of those who were so close to done now.  I reminded myself I could be home cleaning house.  That's a mantra of mine that helps me appreciate the long lonely miles.  Long runs are way better than cleaning house! 

I began to chat with some of the others on the course who were also Maniacs and Half Fanatics..  None of us were in a hurry, most had other races coming up immediately, or like me, had just run a race so the pace was "just get it done" mode.  So I fell into a walk and chat,. I'd run awhile with someone, stop to walk alone, run a bit more until I caught up with someone then stop to walk and chat some more, maybe they'd run ahead, then I'd run some more ... repeat.  Eventually, everyone sort of fell into their own rhythm and I was on my own but the few miles of conversation had helped pass a good chunk of time.  We'd been seeing the faster runner's pass the other way and the closer we got to the turnaround, the more people we saw coming at us, obviously.  This is where you can really see a difference between front runners and back of the packers. So much more focus and concentration from those who are pushing hard. Not that I wasn't pushing hard but it's a relaxed push, if that makes sense. Some might give a nod or runners wave but they are in the zone, where they need to be! As you reach the mid pack runners you start getting more waves and hello's and great jobs thrown at you and when you reach the back of the back there seems to be a camaraderie that appears, a "we're all in this together and we're all surviving" vibe.  This is when people start actually talking as they pass one another with actual conversations.  Well, short conversations but more than just a good job.

The slower runner might say, "Great job" to the one passing them to which the passer might reply, "So are you!  You're getting close to the turnaround".  The passer then says,
"About how much farther?"
"Oh, about another mile. It's past that bend and through the tunnel", says the passer.
"Did you leave me any cake?", the passee in a Blerch race may ask.
"Plenty!" says the passer.

You get the idea. The encouragement is strong at the back of the pack and the pace is slow enough we can actually get the words out!  I do like out and backs for this reason and I enjoy watching those who are fast blaze past me as well as chatting with others who, like me, are speed challenged.

Anyway, on to the turn around, which after an aid station and a tunnel, (which every year makes me nervous because it's just dark enough I fear I'm going to step into a hole and twist my ankle but not long enough to require a flashlight), and a bit more of a jaunt over a pretty leaf covered path, the blessed turn around sign appears.

It's tradition to take a photo of the turnaround

From this point on, it's all downhill!  I'm still doing a semblance of a set run/walk pattern here but it's getting harder.  My watch has been set to 30:30 seconds for awhile now but that didn't really work for me so rather than changing the pattern on my watch I used the pattern to distract myself.  I'd run for four 30 second intervals and then walk for four 30 second intervals.  It helped to have the short goals and counting through them gave my brain something to think about other than how much my hip flexer was hurting on my bad hamstring side.  I made it quite a few miles utilizing this pattern.
One of my favorite tree lined sections of the race. 

  Until I didn't.  I had to stop and stretch a couple times and my walk breaks increased while my running decreased but I knew I was close to at least breaking 6 hours (I'd given up on 5-5:30 a lot of miles back). One day I really need to work on speed again. My PR is a 4:39 in Seattle so I know I can do better! I pushed up my running so that when I reached the boulder sized gravel (well, that's how it felt in the last few miles) I could walk more and spare my feet.  I was so, so, so happy to reach the pavement.  Why is it this section feels so long on the way back?  You can hear the finish line festivities and even see it as you round the bend and yet, you still have to cover a little more ground.  Despite that, it seemed to jump out at me from nowhere and I found some oomph to sprint (well, not walk) to the finish.  So happy to be done and proud of having finished a marathon the weekend after running a 50K plus a few miles.

Done with the hard part.  Now it was time to load up on food and head home.  I was a bit sad to see that even though there was still an hour left for people to finish the course, things were being torn down.  I was glad I'd gotten my photo with the giant Nutella  and I Beat the Blerch background pre-race because as I was walking from the finish area, it was being put away.  In years past, that had always been up longer.  I don't know why they were tearing it down an hour early.  I was sad for anyone behind me that wanted a finisher photo with it. I grabbed a donut but didn't bother with any of the toppings as those too, were pretty much all put away.  Again, last year, when I finished even slower (I was playing) that stuff was still out.  Someone was in a hurry this year.

I really wanted some salt and was glancing around trying to see where they had other food located. My tired brain had forgotten it was under the covered barn area.  It was here that I spotted the Blerch creator, Matthew Inman.  I saw he was helping in the merchandise tent and figured since I didn't get a finish photo with the Nutella, I'd get one with him!  That was way better.  Even though he was busy he graciously took time to pose for a photo.  He did say he was only going to hover his arm around me though as I was covered in a layer of sweat.  Ha ha.  I told him it was more like 20 layers of sweat.  I thanked him for a great event and he asked me if I had my blueberry donut heated up on the grill.  I didn't tell him they'd already shut that part down but instead said, I wasn't really up for a hot donut after sweating in a marathon.  He laughed and said something along the lines of, "Oh yes, just what you want after a hot run ... a donut heated up on a grill".  Anyway,  he was super nice and friendly and that was a better finisher photo than a giant jar of Nutella.

I finally recalled where they had the cake and they had plenty of it.  Potato chips were here also and I grabbed a few of those because I really wanted salt.  I then found a spot in the grass to sit and take a couple photos of my medal and enjoy my food.

Food!  Um, remind me not to wear a visor with pigtails again.  My hair is a mess!!  Ha ha!
It was another successful and enjoyable Blerch race and I'm glad I signed up for it.  If I can, I'll be back next year and hopefully with some friends!

Race Swag!

Post race relaxation in my new Blerch Tee that I bought at the merchandise tent.